Comic Name: Fantastic Four (Volume 1)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
# of Issues: 21
Release Date: 1998
Reprints Fantastic Four (1) #1-20 and Annual #1 (November 1961-November 1963). Reed Richards, Sue Storm, her brother Johnny, and pilot Ben Grimm are explorers set to head to space. When their experimental ship encounters cosmic rays, Ben, Johnny, Sue, and Reed find themselves gifted with unheard of powers. The Fantastic Four are super-stars and a family…but this family has enemies and could be the only thing standing between Earth and destruction!
Written by Stan Lee and with art by Jack Kirby, Essential Fantastic Four—Volume 1 collects the first twenty issues of the Fantastic Four and the series’ first annual. The collection (like all of Marvel’s Essential line) is in black-and-white and has been reprinted multiple times.
The Fantastic Four helped restore comics. Marvel Comics launched the Fantastic Four in November 1961 and with the Fantastic Four’s release, it helped start the Silver Age of comics. The Fantastic Four early issues today might feel stodgy, but at the time, they were something different.
The Fantastic Four were superheroes but Stan Lee spent a lot of time making them a family. The dynamic for the characters were interesting. Sue and Reed were romantically linked and Johnny and Sue were brothers. Ben Grimm was the gruffer roommate of Reed and almost a third wheel. The third wheel became the third wheel of the group with the biggest disfigurement in becoming the Thing.
With a great team set-up Lee and Kirby created some really good villains for the group to deal with. The first volume of the series not only introduced the team but also some of Marvel’s greatest villains. Doctor Doom, the Skrulls, Mole Man, Puppet Master, Red Ghost, Mad Thinker, Super-Skrull, Rama-Tut, and the Molecule Man all first appeared in the first twenty issues along with the Impossible Man and Ben’s blind girlfriend Alicia. It also featured one of Marvel’s early crossovers with the first match up between the Thing and Hulk in Fantastic Four (1) #12 (March 1963).
The series also bridged the gap between Marvel’s Golden Age and the Silver Age. While DC was relaunching characters like the Flash, the Human Torch was a “remake” of Marvel’s classic hero who first appeared in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939). The series also reintroduced Namor the Sub-Mariner in Fantastic Four (1) #4 (May 1962) and later reintroduced Atlantis and his people in Fantastic Four (1) Annual #1 (June 1963).
The early issues of the Fantastic Four aren’t very polished by today’s standards, but they do show why the series took off. With Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Marvel was trying something different than DC. Overall, these are solid issues and the series continues to be at its best for years and years after this collection. With each volume of the Essential Fantastic Four, the family becomes more solid and the team’s villains get better…it is worth reading comic history.